Furthermore, Barry added, CNN, MSNBC, and CBS have all run the exact same ad. To be fair, those ads lack are almost entirely apolitical and don’t attack any competitors in the course of promoting their product. But many, such as David Sassoon at his Solve Climate blog, have argued that the frequency and ubiquity of those ads, especially during primetime presidential election coverage, makes them just as controversial as anything produced by the We campaign.

It is a very reasonable argument. Indeed, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is sponsoring CNN’s election coverage during a campaign in which energy policy has been and continues to be one of the most central and fiercely debated issues (a collection of the ACCCE’s ads is available here). And all the big oil companies are doing their best to burnish their (often questionable) “green” credentials with an absolute onslaught of pro-environment advertising.

Calls to the advertising and public relations departments of CNN, MSNBC, and CBS were not returned today, but it’s worth asking about current industry standards for vetting controversial political advertising, and whether or not such advertising jeopardizes the credibility of their news reporting. Please stay tuned: CJR will have more on this next week, once we are able to speak with representatives of the networks and cable TV stations.


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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.